Offseason to-do list for the Philadelphia Eagles

With Doug Pederson set to take over head coaching duties, PFF's John Breitenbach examines the work necessary for a successful 2016 campaign in Philly.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

(AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

Offseason to-do list for the Philadelphia Eagles

The Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia proved short-lived after an ill-fated experiment with personnel power ended in disaster. Owner Jeffrey Lurie hedged his bets by retaining Howie Roseman, a move that suggested he was never fully committed to Chip Kelly as irreproachable overseer. After taking a risk by bringing in a college coach with no NFL experience, Lurie has reverted to a safety-first approach, hiring Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator of the past few years.

Doug Pederson’s resume is very similar to Reid’s when he was hired by the Eagles. He is also being hired in similar circumstances, tasked with improving an offense that struggled mightily in 2015, as it had in 1998 when Reid took over. Below are the main issues, along with some possible solutions for the Philadelphia Eagles heading into 2016.

Standout receiver

Problem: Pederson is no stranger to poor wide receiver play, having led a unit which went a whole year without a score from a wideout. The Eagles are in an equally desperate position, requiring a complete overhaul to a unit that combined for a -32.5 PFF cumulative receiving grade (0.0 is average). Drops were a huge issue for the Eagles’ wide receivers, as they combined for 22 in 2015.

Player Receptions Drops Drop Rate
Jordan Matthews 85 9 9.57 (128th)
Josh Huff 27 3 10 (129th)
Riley Cooper 21 3 12.5 (150th)
Nelson Agholor 23 4 14.81 (166th)
Miles Austin 13 3 18.75 (182nd)

A breakout season was expected of Jordan Matthews, but he set the tone early on by dropping a pass against the Falcons. The deflection was picked off, sealing the win for Atlanta. Matthews’ receiving grade fell from sharply from 2014 to this season.

Nelson Agholor, meanwhile, showed enough at USC to suggest he can succeed in the NFL, but his rookie season was a disaster. He finished dead last in our receiver rankings, with a 43.9 overall grade (scale of 1–100), and a 42.8 mark in terms of receiving alone. Rounding out the group, Austin was rightly cut mid-season, Cooper has never shown sustainable NFL ability, and Josh Huff was over-drafted. The Eagles need a significant upgrade at wide receiver if they’re to contend for the NFC East in 2016.

Solution: To be fair to Agholor, rookie wideouts tend to struggle in the NFL. Both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin suffered inconsistent rookie years before developing into dominant receivers. For that reason, the Eagles 13th overall pick is probably better served on another position. The potential standout of the free agent crop is Alshon Jeffery (94.5 grade, third-best NFL WR), but the likelihood is he won’t make it out of the Windy City. Bengals’ WR Marvin Jones is a more plausible target, should he leave Cincinnati. He ended the year as our 30th-ranked wideout in terms of receiving alone (79.8 grade), catching 65 passes for 816 yards, four TDs, three drops, and 12 broken tackles. The Eagles need to add playmakers who can make things happen after the catch, and Jones fits the bill.

The Bradford dilemma

The Problem: Although Bradford’s numbers weren’t the best in 2015, he improved as the season went along. Despite getting limited support from his receivers, Bradford finished the year as our 12th-ranked NFL QB. He has his limitations, specifically passing downfield, but those issues might be mitigated by the conservative offense Pederson could bring with him from Kansas City. Alex Smith was one of only six QBs to throw 20 yards downfield less frequently than Bradford. Smith went deep on just 8.5 percent of passes, the third-lowest rank in the league. If Pederson can succeed in limiting turnovers like he did with the Chiefs, then the Eagles can depend on the quality of their defense to win low-scoring games.

Solution: If the Eagles are unsure as to whether Bradford is their long-term solution at QB, then they could franchise tag him and take a QB in the draft. Bradford himself might be willing to take the short-term risk considering he received the financial benefits of being a pre-CBA No. 1 overall pick. Alternatively, Pederson might prefer to groom his own QB, which could bring Memphis’ Paxton Lynch into play with the 13th overall pick. Not everyone at PFF is convinced by Lynch, who looks like he might need some time to adjust to the NFL. Lynch’s upside is obvious, though, considering his physical capabilities and improvement year-on-year, but questions remain. He ended the year as our tenth overall college QB, proving his ability, in particular, against a talented Ole Miss defense. Lynch remains inconsistent, however, ending the year with a couple of poor performances. Ultimately though, he’s flashed enough pro-level throws to suggest he’ll be a first-rounder come April.

Versatile offensive lineman

Problem: Chip Kelly’s decision to cut Evan Mathis remains baffling, especially considering the alternatives the Eagles had on the roster. Sam Bradford had to deal with constant interior pressure, with his guards frequently beaten immediately off the snap. Overall, the two players either side of the center allowed nine sacks, 25 hits, and 63 pressures. Allen Barbre was set to start all along, but proved he’s a journeyman for a reason. Barbre ended the year with a 58.2 overall grade, leaving him ranked 52nd amongst guards. He recorded a 53.2 pass protection grade after allowing a sack, 10 hits, and 29 hurries in 672 snaps. Barbre was also the only Philadelphia offensive lineman to record a negative run-blocking grade. Across from him, an injury to Andrew Gardner forced Matt Tobin into the lineup. Tobin recorded the worst pass protection grade we’ve ever given to an OG (since 2007). He finished with a 30.9 grade (1–100 scale) in that facet of play, giving up eight sacks, 11 hits, and 31 hurries. Despite their issues on the interior of the offensive line, the struggles of the guards played only a small part in the Eagles’ disappointing season. A reshuffle forced by an injury to an aging Jason Peters, who’s owed $9.3 million in 2016, also stymied the offensive production. After adding just one offensive lineman under Chip Kelly (Lane Johnson in the first round in 2013), the Eagles’ desperately need an investment in youth.

Solution: The 13th pick might end up being an ideal spot to take a tackle with guard flexibility in the 2016 NFL Draft. It appears certain Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil will be off the board, but the Eagles might have their pick thereafter. Michigan State LT Jack Conklin has put together a pair of outstanding back-to-back seasons. After grading as our third overall tackle in 2014, he improved to second-best in 2015. Conklin’s allowed just four sacks, four hits and 17 hurries in two years. Alternatively, Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair is flying somewhat under the radar. He finished as our seventh overall OT in 2014, and first this year. There have been some suggestions that Whitehair is a guard only at the next level, but pass protection numbers of four sacks, three hits, and 14 hurries suggest he’s capable of holding his own in space. Hopefully he’ll get a shot on the edge at the Senior Bowl, where Whitehair will have a chance to elevate his stock.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Sifter

    1) A receivers coach to get the most out of Agholor, Matthews and Huff. Had to laugh at ‘The Eagles need to add playmakers who can make things happen after the catch’…just making the catch would be an improvement in 2016! But yeah Marvin Jones is a good call, and hopefully affordable. It was really noticeable last year that Bradford had no go-to guys. Ertz ended up being the guy, but he needs more than that. Have to trust the young guys develop quickly.
    2) At QB I’d lean towards Bradford again. Not a lot of options I’m afraid. College QBs are underwhelming apart from Goff, who’ll be gone. After that you’re looking at the Ryan Fitzpatricks of the world.

    3) O-line, yes good, a guard or two in free agency would be great, then maybe your developmental tackle in the draft.

    4) A good 4-3 defensive co-ordinator. Eagles have had 4-3 personnel wedged into a 3-4 since Chip arrived and I think having a better DC and a better formation would really help. Talent on D looks pretty good in the front 7, but get Graham and Curry back as DEs, Cox as your 3-technique and suddenly that front 4 looks pretty intimidating.

    • Daniel Nottingham

      I like your points on the WR and the OL. I disagree that we need to go to the 4-3. Curry would be better, but Graham is not a DE. I think our talent at LB screams 3-4. I love Curry, my favorite Eagle, but I’d let him walk and bring in that DL from Ole Miss to pair with Cox and Logan. Hire an attacking 3-4 coach and let them work some magic.

      • PFF_John

        Not sure Graham doesn’t fit better at DE. He made an impressive transition to OLB but I think prefers playing with his hand in the dirt. Rob Nkemdiche would be a big risk I think. Didn’t have as good a season as a number of other DL prospects.

        • Daniel Nottingham

          I agree he is a risk. But I think we have a good core of veteran leadership here. I also think he would benefit from lining up with Cox and Logan.

      • Sifter

        4-3 vs 3-4 is interesting, I think Barwin is best in 3-4. Curry better in 4-3. I still argue Graham as a DE in the 4-3, rather than in space. The other LBs (Kendricks, Alonso, Hicks) are generally smaller and quicker so I think they’d appreciate an extra body in front of them that the 4-3 provides. DeMeco Ryans is bigger, but he’s old and not worth building around. I just want a better DC, if we stay 3-4 it won’t be a disaster or anything.

        • Daniel Nottingham

          So if they move to the 4-3 who is the odd man out? They have 5 high level LBs (Alonso, Hicks, Kendricks, Graham, and Barwin). If you think Graham is DE, then a they would be crazy not to put Curry on the other side. SO it would have to be Graham, Cox, Logan, Curry, and then 4 LBs in 3 spots. BTW Id like to point out that this set up of players would be a HUGE liability against the run on paper.

          • Sifter

            One of them will have to sit whatever your formation:
            4-3=Logan, Cox, Curry, Graham / Barwin + 2 of your 3 smaller LBs
            3-4=Logan, Cox, Thornton / Graham, Barwin + 2 of your 3 LBs
            Given that one of those 3 (at least one…) was always injured last year then it’s probably fine. Heck we had DeMeco Ryans in the mix too – 4 LBs in 2 spots.
            Barwin could play DE if necessary as well. Did in college and for the Texans. Interesting to see where coaches see him if we changed formations (and Marcus Smith for that matter). I wouldn’t be playing Barwin as a 3-down DE, but in sub packages he’d be fine.
            True, it would be worse against the run when playing Curry for Thornton, but not sensationally. It may even help changing formation given that the Eagles seemed to get gashed more in the middle than the outside. Getting 2 DTs in the middle instead of 1 might be helpful.
            Interestingly, both Curry and Thornton are FAs this year and I think whichever formation the DC picks is probably a good guide as to who will sign ie. if I’m Curry I’m not signing on again to a 3-4 team. So depth in the front is likely to be an issue. Probably need to draft a DL earlyish to add to the rotation.

        • Daniel Nottingham

          The reason I say Graham is a 3-4 LB is that when he came out of college he was valued more as OLB in 3-4. If you remember, Reid got a lot of crap for drafting him as a DE when he was considered OLB by pretty much everyone else. I personally think we have a good 3-4 set up and Id like to see a better coach work with them and see how they do when they are not exhausted from playing all game.

          • Sifter

            I afraid I don’t recall that at all. I remember Graham being compared to LaMarr Woodley, but then every scouting report I read said they doubted his ability to play in space because of his stiff hips. Google some scouting reports like I did this morning and they all project Graham as a 4-3 DE.

  • Unstable 1

    You lost me when you put Miles Austin on your receiver list. He was cut a few weeks back.

    OOOPS, my bad you said it in your comments. Guess I got to go back and get me some skoolin’

  • Daniel Nottingham

    I’d love to let Pederson work with Lynch. I’d rather just corner the market on Matthews and bring Rishad in at WR. I think he would match well with Jordan and Agholor. I doubt we take Paxton. I figure the pick is an OT. I’d pick Paxton or take a risk on that DL from Ole Miss whose name I can’t spell, but I can envision dominating along side Fletcher.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Pederson won’t last any longer than Kelly did if he’s fool enough to hitch his wagon to Bradford.

  • Backinmd

    Not saying Lynch is not the next Johnny Unitas but the few times I saw him on TV he was impressive ..Has a lot of upside .. Remember when way too many NFL Scouts said Sanchez was ” NFL ready ” coming out of So Cal years ago …

    • Daniel Nottingham

      I agree. I look at Goff and see Harrington.

  • Backinmd

    A dropped pass counts as an incompletion for the QB ..Eagles receivers did drop a lot this past season …Bradford did improve as the season went along …Kelly got rid of too many people too fast this past season .. Murray was a disaster …Fans forget that Dallas has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and they made him look like a superstar .. He’s not in my opinion ..

    • Nick Wetzler

      Chip Kelly’s refusal to run Murray under center was what made Murray look like garbage. 1st play under center all year and what happened??? If you’re planing to run from the gun all year then Murray has to go, otherwise I believe he can still be an elite back in a RBBC with Matthews and the leagues most valuable player of the last 3 years, Darren Sproles.

      • Sifter

        I think Kelly just chose to keep rely on the line’s strengths rather than change their blocking completely to suit Murray’s strength. ie. the line was meant to be an agile, pull blocking, reach blocking unit based on Kelce, Peters and Johnson’s athleticism. They didn’t perform as well doing that as in years past I feel. Asking the small Kelce to just block north-south for Murray wouldn’t have worked to well either I’d imagine.

      • Daniel Nottingham

        Im not sold on it. Murray is the same type of back as Matthews and he got totally smoked by Matthews YPC. IMO Murray has been running through Mack truck holes for too long. He and Matthews ran the same plays and yet Matthews could find a hole and get 3 yards on a play Murray would run straight into the line on. I think where they misused Murray is in the passing game. I love Sproles, but Ill give Murray a lot of credit. Sproles might have more big play potential in the passing game, but catch for catch Murray was getting more yards on average. Murray took a ton of swing passes and got some good yards with them. Overall Kelly was a great passing coach, but I thought his running game was way too predictable. I could just about tell you when it was a run 80% of the time, at least. If a new RB came in the game it was almost always a run. Especially the backups. He had been doing that since we had Bryce Brown. If you saw a back up in the game, he was assuredly getting the ball.

      • Backinmd

        A good head coach adjusts to his players and Kelly never adjusted his offensive plays for Murray .. Never saw many sweeps when Murray was in Dallas ..Couldn’t the Eagles have used Darren Sproles more ? …The holes Murray had in Dallas you could run a truck through…Eagles running game to me was way too predictable last season…

  • Disgruntled

    Let’s be real people. Kelly set this team back 5 years min. Can sit here and talk a good talk but the truth of the matter is they need to push the reset button and get on their knees and hope they draft the right qb, Joe flacco from a few years back comes to mind. It’s a shame, with Kelly’s system and the players he had, we were one or two players from a superbowl.